On Writing Songs

I’m not just a novelist.  I’m also a song writer.

In the fifty-four years I’ve been playing guitar, I’ve composed close to two hundred songs,  a rock opera, and three or four musical dramas. While none of my songs have enjoyed wide-spread popularity–most of you aren’t familiar with any of them–I’ve been able to use them in prisons, migrant camps, and even occasionally in churches. Plus on mission trips to England, Wales, Romania, and Australia.

But writing a song is so much different from writing a novel that I decided to share my thoughts on the subject. I’m sure every song writer has his or her own methodology, but I doubt that many song writers can see–uh, hear–exactly what the finished work will be like until they actually get there.

That’s true for me.

I used to write as many as six or seven songs a year, but–since becoming a novelist–the number has dropped to one song every year or two. Not for lack of interest. Or even lack of time.

I believe God has very specific expectations  regarding the use of my talents. So it’s no wonder that I can’t simply wake up one day and say, “I want to write a song today.” Instead, I pray that God will lead me to an idea I can’t ignore. And then I wait. Sometimes many months.

I occasionally come up with a song idea that seems potentially worthwhile, but unless that idea comes to me in the form of a definite first line, I’m not even going to jot it down anywhere, much less try to do something with it.

But if I have a first line, I’m apt to feel that song is something God intends for me to write. I have two directions to go in at that point. I can try to complete the lyrics for the first stanza or I can just start singing that line to myself to see what kind of tune comes to mind. That normally works best once I have at least the rough version of the first stanza, however.

Sometimes I come up with what seems like a fairly catchy tune without much effort. Unlike years long past when I had to struggle to write the melody, note by note by note. I’m not apt to write it down yet, though. I’ve found that if that’s the tune God wants me to use, it’s going to come back to me again the next time I need it. I don’t recall ever having “lost” a tune that way.

But once I have the basic melody I start refining the first stanza lyrics and trying to determine where to go from there.

Many of my songs are based on Scripture, however, and that creates a completely different challenge: phrasing the Scripture my own way without doing the Bible an injustice. I’ll never forget sitting on the living room carpet surrounded with three or four different translations of the Bible and taking a word or phrase from one and something else from another. That was for “Let the Whole Earth Ring,” my rendition of Psalm 100.

Sooner or later I enter what I have of the new song thus far into Personal Composer software, which allows me to print professional looking lead sheets (words, melody, and chords). Then I start singing what I have over and over again, often making the tiniest changes to the lyrics. (See the link at the bottom of this page about the free lead sheets available on my website.)

Writing a whole song is apt to take anywhere from two to four weeks, and there’s no telling how many versions I print from Personal Composer in the process.

But alas! writing the song is actually the easy part. Then I have to LEARN it! That requires me to forget each of the discarded bits and pieces that are

Are you creative with words or music? Or in some other way? I know at least one of you is quite creative as a cook. How about leaving a comment and sharing a bit about your special talent?

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Links you might be interested in:

I’ll be back again on Wednesday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

Best regards,
Roger

A Weighty Idiosyncrasy

If you’ve been with me even a short time already, you know I have my share of idiosyncrasies. I hope you do, too. I’d hate to be all by myself that way.

I describe the idiosyncrasy I’m talking about today as “weighty” because it has to do with my weight. See? That’s not very complicated, is it?

I’ve been in a battle with my weight practically my whole life. Don’t ask me why I remember this so vividly, but when I was in the sixth grade I weighed 148 and was a lot shorter than my adult 5’6″ height. The folks at church thought I was cute being so fat. I didn’t.

My parents finally decided to do something about it, and I trimmed down quite a bit

But–doggone it!–weight loss never seems to be permanent. I’ll bet I’ve gained and lost a thousand pounds over the years, although it’s felt more like I only gained a thousand and kept it.

When I started teaching school, I was always eating something I shouldn’t have had, and I managed to gain a good twenty pounds or so. A “good twenty pounds”? I don’t think so!

My clothes didn’t fit and I felt miserable. But I cut back on my eating and starting bicycling a lot. I bought some great looking clothes that wouldn’t fit until I reached my goal. I went from at least 177 down to 148 or less, and I was proud of myself. That was my first weight loss effort as an adult.

But, alas! it snuck back on over the years. It’s hard to pick a weight at which I would automatically decide I had to lose weight again. But it happened. Over and over again.

About three years ago I was diagnosed as being diabetic, type 2. The doctor told me to watch the scales, not the carbs. Huh?

Hmm. I’d made it up to 208. Not good. So I took Dr. Ashe’s statement seriously. I worked slowly and carefully. It took a year-and-a-half to lose fifty pounds, and I was determined that–for once–I was going to control my weight and never have to diet again.

But I’d been equally determined far too many other times, although not motivated by health needs, and I’d always backslidden.

Okay, you say. You understand. Maybe you’ve had an ongoing battle with your weight, too. Or ought to be concerned but you haven’t been motivated to do anything yet. Or maybe you’re close to someone who has a weight problem. Who isn’t?

So where’s the idiosyncrasy?

I keep a datebook in the bathroom and record my weight on a regular basis. I accept the fact that there will be minor fluctuations from day to day, but I make myself aware of those and fret whenever the figure goes up more than seems reasonable.

But that probably still doesn’t qualify as an idiosyncrasy.

How about the fact that I consider the first day of the month a crucial time–and even more so the first day of the year?

Seriously.

I keep an Excel spreadsheet of my weight; it goes back a number of years, although for a while I only kept track of the January 1 readings. I’m already fretting about the likelihood that I’ll probably weigh three pounds more on January 1, 2015, than I did the first of this year.

Fretting. I mean big-time fretting. Here I did so well so long, and I feel like I’m losing the battle. Starting to, anyhow.

I can eat the way I need to forever if I can avoid temptation. But add a week’s vacation away from home to dinner out with friends at a Cheesecake Factory and another dinner out with friends at a Captain George’s Seafood Restaurant (at least I didn’t have the buffet, which would’ve required me to fully pig out to try to eat my money’s worth) and I’m in trouble.

Yes, I know. Three pounds isn’t that much. But every successful diet has always concluded with failures like those. And they’ve always led to more.

I HAVE to keep it off this time, though. I refuse to buy bigger clothes again.

What do you say? Is weight your problem, or is something else equally frustrating to you? Please leave a comment.

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I’ll be back again on Sunday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

“On Aging Gracelessly” is only one of my two blogs. I use “As I Come Singing” to post lyrics of the Christian songs I’ve written over the last fifty years. Check it out HERE if you’re interested. . Free lead sheets (tune, words, and chords) are available for many of them. View the list HERE.

My new novel, The Devil and Pastor Gus, is out. If you’re interested, please check it out at Amazon.

Best regards,
Roger

Happy Friday Mornings

Friday mornings are special to me.

Not because the weekend is almost here. Since retiring, weekends don’t mean as much as they used to.

But it’s the one day a week I walk at the mall without my wife.

Huh? you protest. You like walking without Kathleen?

Definitely not. She and I have a great time walking together Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday nights. We also walk sometime during the day on Saturdays. And we often do so much talking that our twice-around-the-mall loop goes very quickly.

But Wednesday nights and Sundays are out, and Kathleen’s not available any other time. I need one more walking day, and Friday is normally it.

So, you ask, what makes the Friday walk so special?

I’m glad you asked.

I go early in the morning–usually around 8:00. The only people there are security people, a few store employees setting up for the day, and a number of other walkers. The sense of trust is so great that most of us walkers feel quite safe leaving our coats at tables in the empty Food Court. I sure wouldn’t do that when the mall has other people.

I often start by walking to my left–against the flow of traffic, as it were. Not many yards into my walk, I’m apt to run into another walker. Rarely is it someone I know personally; only one person from the past walks at the same time I do.

Not always someone I recognize from previous Fridays, either. But that doesn’t matter. Walkers seem to share a sense of camaraderie.

Very seldom does the other person fail to respond to my pleasant greeting–or perhaps to greet me first. That happens throughout my walk.

I really enjoy noticing the variety of walkers. I’m apt to see a pretty even mixture of blacks and whites. Practically never do I see anyone I recognize as Latino or Asian.

Although I’m far from being the only person walking by himself, I frequently see groups of two or three people. They’re not always doing the fastest walking, but they seem to be having a great time socializing. I must admit I get a little jealous of the fun they’re having together.

Gee, in seven or eight years, Kathleen will be able to retire. Hope I’m still up to walking by then.

Sometimes I count the closed stores and marvel at the ingenious places that have opened (see my earlier post about what’s happened to malls). Sometimes I pray–for the other walkers, the mall employees, and shoppers who’ll start showing up in another hour or two.

I continue speaking to other walkers and try to keep straight which ones I’ve already greeted. That’s more of a problem than you might think. I’ve always been horrible at remembering faces.

The walking stick I bought several months ago in California–made in Texas, of all places–attracts a lot of attention. Mainly because it’s longer than the ones I’ve made myself.

I don’t know whether I’ve given you an adequate understanding of what I enjoy about my Friday walks, but I’m fairly certain I’ll really bore you if I say much more.

The fans of any given athletic team automatically have something in common, no matter how they differ as individuals. My fellow mall-walkers and I are that way, too.

Do you associate with people you have something special in common with? How about sharing a comment?

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I’ll be back again on Wednesday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, just go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

“On Aging Gracelessly” isn’t my only blog. I post lyrics of the Christian songs I’ve written over the last fifty years on “As I Come Singing”–check it out HERE . Free lead sheets (tune, words, and chords) are available for many of them. View the list HERE.

My new novel, The Devil and Pastor Gus, is out now. If you’re interested, look for it at Amazon.

Best regards,
Roger